Addiction to recovery; the forks in the road traveled by myself and other family members.
I am a recovering alcoholic who celebrated 31 years of continuous sobriety august of 2018.
In support of my book Shaking the Family Tree, a double genre memoir/poetry offering that looks at the genetic predisposition for alcoholism from a layman's point of view, I have decided to start a blog. By sharing my own experience, I hope to open the door of recovery for others affected by this disease. And that includes those loved ones who are hoping to gain a little insight into the mechanics of the disease and recovery.
New publication as of 3/31/20 Kaleidoscope a poetry book of random meanderings intended to touch the heart tickle, tickle the funny-bone, awake the imagination, and in some cases, give pain a voice. Published under Dallas Hembra. Available for order now at Amazon, Books a Million, Barnes and Noble, and Written Dreams Publishing.
I can be contacted on Facebook at authordallash; Twitter at Dallash01; Bookbub at DALLASHAUTHOR
Depending on the person, self-love can mean a variety of things: For those who have been abused, It could be setting boundaries; burying denial in order to reveal the truth, seeking help instead of harboring secrets, and throwing away the cracked distorted image in the mirror of lies that holds one captive. With a bit of courage and determination, as one begins to apply these actions a gradual metamorphosis starts to occur: The crusty casing that scarred the soul commences to flake away in barely noticeable increments; one layer at a time, making way for the self- respect that was pilfered by another without knowledge or consent. The race is on. Coming down the stretch and jockeying for position, self-respect moves ahead, clearing the way for self-love. And it is a photo finish, leaving yesterday’s scars buried in the dust.
Low self -esteem is yet another culprit that robs one of the ability to acquire and practice self-love: I’m not good enough, she is prettier, he is smarter, my gums show when I smile, I’m too fat, who wants to hear what I have to say? This contrast and comparison game can be self-inflicted or learned. Unreasonable expectations filter down through parents who love us and want the best for us, through teachers who compare us to older siblings, and even by a Society that values intelligence and beauty over heart and soul. Even if these unrelenting messages were hammered into our consciousness by others, we began to believe them internalize them, and over time, exacerbate them. The best recipe for acquiring self-love due to low self-esteem is to get a new cookbook. Throw out the stale, rancid ingredients that tainted your soul and replace them with fresh new concoctions: Add that tablespoon of poise to that cup of confidence, throw in a teaspoon each of faith, pride, and courage. Fold in an abundant supply of risk. Then sit back and watch a masterpiece as it rises to the occasion.
Two other types of personalities that cannot be left out of the equation are the perfectionist and the co-dependent. The former is so busy trying to live up to his own, as well as others’ expectations that there is little time for self-love. This constant striving to never make a mistake, be the best, and succeed at all costs, is not only draining but often conceals a fear that to fail is a death knell. Perfectionists are intimidating because they usually expect perfectionism from everyone else. Contrary to appearances, perfectionist rarely see themselves as successful; like those suffering from low self- esteem, they never feel quite good enough. Perhaps the portal to self-love for these marathon contenders can be found somewhere in the middle of the race where self- acceptance and a willingness to just be human offers relief.
Like the perfectionist, the co-dependents have neither the time nor the inclination, to engage in self-love. They are dedicated to lavishing all their love and energy on friends, family, the kindred spirits of friends and family, and anyone, and everyone else they meet. Before they realize it, patching broken hearts and stitching frayed relationships morphs into a lifelong occupation that leaves them exhausted and resentful. The only hope for this exhausted seamstress, or tailor, is to shred the crumpled pattern, toss away the needle and thread and seek out that empty fitting room labeled me.
Most of us fall into one, two, or all these categories. And while none of these remedies, are easy, or come with a guarantee, self-love is the byproduct of practice, practice, practice.
For those of us who got sober in AA, not only are we familiar with the above acronym, but we did, and continue, to ascribe to the tenets of its wisdom. It became a prerequisite for our recovery journey and remains the iron-clad handrail that keeps us from falling back into the abyss of our disease.
When I first heard that referenced in relation to getting sober, I thought, no problem. I’m honest. Never stole anything, except maybe time. Time from my family, my job, and my friends. And, occasionally, I guess I robbed them of their trust and peace of mind. But is that what they meant?
And I have always been open-minded. I didn’t care what other people did, or didn’t do if they gave me the same consideration and kept their nose out of my business. Isn’t that being open-minded? I won’t judge you, so you damn well better not judge me. I figured that gave me a free pass to do whatever I wanted without attracting your attention or condemnation.
Willingness. Well, that was a given. After all, I walked through those doors of AA on my own, didn’t I? “But don’t tell me what to do or try to make me a part of your group think tank. Just let me sit back in the corner and I will decide what I need and what I don’t. I’ll figure it all out, thank you.”
After a few months of stagnating in my own stubbornness, the earplugs fell out and I began to observe the program through a sharper, unobstructed lens. I decided I needed to redefine my first impression of H.O.W with just a tiny tweak. Because I had marginal signs of dyslexia, I decided to approach it backward. That turned out to be the first good decision I had made in a long time.
Once I fine-tuned my version of H.O.W, I began to see with greater clarity.
Willingness required more than simply walking through the door, lugging around that know it all attitude that had become my logo. It meant participating: taking suggestions, sharing, getting a sponsor, and parking that attitude outside the rooms of AA.
Open-Mindedness: Being open meant I would have to let go of preconceived ideas about the disease of alcoholism, embrace new ideas from strangers who didn’t necessarily think like me, be willing to adjust my own opinions, allowing for the fact that new information often changes the circumstances and another adjustment in my thinking may be required. And most important, though it would take a lot of practice; I had to learn to place principals before personalities if I was to benefit from the hard-learned lessons of others.
Honesty: I soon found that the cash register honesty that I so readily ascribed to was just the tip of the iceberg. No one ever told me that people-pleasing rated right up there, at the top of the list, under the headline dishonesty. Or, that telling everyone what they wanted to hear, often just to keep out of trouble, was another offender. And how about laughing at inappropriate jokes, when deep down, I felt that I was somehow compromising myself, but was too afraid of offending someone to speak out?
Sponsorship was the vehicle that maneuvered me through this web of confusion. Once I learned that I was in a safe environment, where I could let down my guard and dispense with the old defense mechanisms, I discovered a brand-new template that I soon learned to navigate. Now, when I feel a pang of jealousy, I can admit it without thinking it makes me a bad person. Or, when I am feeling low, I no longer must camouflage it behind a phony smile.
Self -honesty is a far cry from cash register honesty. It attacks self -delusion and rips the cover from denial. It requires self-monitoring and is a lifetime pursuit.
H.O.W., whether worked backward or forward, is the acronym that will always set me straight.
So, I quit drinking. No big deal, I thought. You’ve already quit twenty-seven times. This’ll be a piece of cake. And then it dawned on me. I’d quit that many times but only for a week tops, and sometimes even the next day. I threw my last half-fifth of Jim Beam into the woods behind my house, only this time I took the cap off, remembering the 10 ℉ January morning when I went back into the briars to retrieve one with a cap on.
I had it bad.
During the summer of 1964, my seventeen-year-old cousin asked his twelve-year-old kinsman if he wanted to go to a party. I was elated and said, “Oh hell yes” and away we went up the hill to Memorial Park in the westernmost part of Martins Ferry, Ohio. As soon as I got out of his junky VW, some senior offered me a beer called “Blatz”. I graciously took and downed half of it in maybe two gulps. I loved the taste of it and never turned back. After five more of those I was, what the older boys called, “Blatzed” and my benefactor put me in the car and dropped me off at home right smack dab in front my Bible-banging, die-hard Baptist and Suffragette-sympathizing Mother.
Off and on for the next six years, Mom and I fought about my “entertainment problem” until six years later when she threw me out of her house. It was time. I worked as a coal miner and truck driver for the next forty years and continued with my “merriment” until October 1st, 2018 when I admitted to myself –and my wife and kids, who already knew—that I was an alcoholic. I went through the detox at home because I didn’t want this torture on my medical records. Never been so sick in all my life. At one point I thought if I’d slip into a coma for a few days it’d all feel better. Then, on October 10th, 2018 I joined Alcoholics Anonymous and felt better. My sponsor said I should start a journal.